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Old 15th November 2015, 00:36   #1
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Default A fascinating drive to the land of tea estates - Chennai to Valparai

It has been quite a while since we had our last getaway to the nature. It happened in the last year when we managed a trip to Chikmagalur during dussehra holidays. So a year passed with routine chores without much happenings. There were few drives to Bangalore and Kerala for family functions and other personal reasons, but an escape to the nature was still pending. The irk was clearly visible in our minds and finally me and my wife decided to take the much required break.

We listed down the options and probable dates for travel. We had a holiday voucher from Club Mahindra and searched for availability at hill stations like Yerkad, Coorg etc. None of them was available as expected. Then Wife brought on the spark, "how about Valparai". Yes it was in the wish list. Our cousin is settled in Valparai. He works for Paralai Estate, Parry Agro Industries Ltd in Valparai. And the invitation was hanging in the air for quite some time. So we called them up and checked for their availability and the trip was confirmed for Diwali holidays (Nov 7,8,9,10).

Had a quick check on the recent travelogues to Valparai. The threads by Ddrive, http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...i-vagamon.html (Chennai to Kodaikanal - via Valparai, Athirappilly, Kochi & Vagamon) and by Jacs, http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...l-station.html (A rejuvenating long weekend at Valparai Ė The young green hill station) were really helpful. My sincere thanks to Ddrive and Denver for supporting me in the route planning. The following route was finalized.

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Day 1:

We planned for an early start in the morning, but only managed to get ready by 7.30. Moved the car off the parking lot and we loaded the bags in the boot.
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Noted down the ODO reading and reset the trip meter. Petrol was filled full on the previous day itself.
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We entered GST through Thoraipakam - Pallavaram radial road and headed towards Trichy. Diwali rush on the road was clearly visible and we lost some good amount of time in crossing Tambaram signal. We reached Chengalpet around 8.45 and had our breakfast at Sriranga Bhavan near Mahindra IT city. Resumed the journey at 9.30 through GST. On the way we spotted two upcoming Endeavour models featured TN temp registration. They maintained uniform distance throughout and it was delightful for our eyes to see the way they progressed.

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We reached Perambalur by 12.30 PM where we took the deviation from GST. This is actually a bypass to avoid Trichy and reach Karur. This is a single lane road without medians. But there were hardly any traffic and hence we were able to make some good progress.The below pictures would give some idea on the condition of the road and the surroundings.
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It was indeed a scenic drive with lots of greenery. Trees on either sides of the road had made natural tunnels and gave our eyes a peaceful and soothing effect.

We stopped for lunch by 2.45 PM at Ammaiiyappar restaurant on Karur - Aruvakurichi road.
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Please note that the bypass stretches which we took were going through villages and there are no food joints available until we hit Karur bypass.

We resumed the journey at 3.30PM. We saw a bunch of wind mills all over soon after Dharapuram on the way to Pollachi.
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Reached Pollachi by 5.30 PM and we were welcomed by Traffic patrol. They were stopping all the vehicles inbound to Pollachi.But we were let off soon after ensuring that all the papers are intact. Cousin and family were already waiting for us in Pollachi, they were returning from Ooty after picking up their elder son who is studying in a residential school in Ooty for Diwali holidays. We pulled over for a tea break in Pollachi town. By that time we had covered around 500KM and the tank was getting closer to empty. The remaining stretch is in Ghat section and I didn't want to take any risk. So we filled up the tank from Pollachi and started our most awaited final leg of the onward journey!

Pollachi - Valparai distance is 65 KM which includes 40 hair pin bends. It was around 7.15 PM when we started our final leg and was already dark and hence couldn't take any pictures during the uphill climb. Sharp curve and climb in the hair pin bends forced me to adjust my gear shift to catch up with Cousin's diesel Fiesta Classic. He is living in Valparai for last 5 years and it was reflected in the way he manoeuvres the hair pins. We reached on top by 8.15 PM and straight away went to estate which is on Rottikadai-Sholayar road. Temperature outside was around 15C, had a quick hot shower followed by dinner and then crashed to bed.

Trip meter reading at the end of day 1.
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PS: Pictures of Valparai - Pollachi stretch was taken during downhill on Day 4.

Day 2:

We started our second day with a walk around the estate area. The place is surrounded by tea plantations. We were told that it all has begun back in 1850s when few British citizens made their expedition to the higher ranges of Anamalai Hills in search of proper cultivation areas for Coffee and Tea plantations. Prior to that period, the only inhabitants were few tribes, namely Kaders, Paliars and Malsars. Kaders were considered as lords of the hills, Palias were the merchant community and the Malsars were the cultivators of soil. Waterfall estates was one among those early start ups and it was established in 1864. Paralai estates where our cousin works was established in 1896.

Few morning pictures from the estate premises.
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Our first animal sighting from the backyards.
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One unit of paralai tea factory surrounded by hill range where we drove through yesterday. Yes the 40 hair pin bends are hosted in that hill range.
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Post breakfast we headed up to visit Parlai tea factory around 10.30. Few pictures taken en-route.
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Yes it was an Indian gaur!

Inside the factory, we visited the various machineries used for tea processing and we were told about the various processes involved. In general there are mainly 5 procedures, withering, rolling, fermentation, drying and grading. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures and hence couldn't post details. We spent some qualitative time inside the factory on learning the art of tea production. And finally we were greeted with a cup of really tasteful tea!
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Monument placed outside - Old withering fan used in the factory.
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Then we rushed to Balaji temple. Temple closes at 12:00 and we only had 5 minutes left when we reached the parking lot. Had darshan and left to the estate for lunch.

Last edited by Cruiser_D : 15th November 2015 at 21:08.
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Old 15th November 2015, 03:03   #2
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Post lunch we roamed inside the estate. There is one private road which leads to a small stream inside the tea plantations. We really enjoyed the peaceful nature, the fact that this place is restricted for public access adds more charm to it.

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Herd of gaurs inside the plantations.
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Then we went to visit Sinnai Dorai Bungalow. This property is really awesome. They don't have a swimming pool or even a wifi connectivity. So yes, this truly takes you to the real wild life habitats.
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Antique pieces inside Sinna Dorai.
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A close look on the way back to estate.
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We were having dinner in the estate bungalow when the cook claimed that he spotted one leopard on the way to estate. As per his description, he saw something crossing the road in the direction of thick bushes and he thought it was some deer. Suddenly a vehicle passed through the other side of the road and he saw that prominent figure with the help of the head light beam from that vehicle. He got frozen for a moment, it was holding a rabbit and crawling. When the cook got his senses back, the leopard was gone. We were told that there were many untoward incidents in the recent past when the leopards attacked children.

So we had to drop our cook at his home after our dinner as it was not considered safe to go back alone in the same route in a bicycle. We finished the dinner, picked up my DSLR and got into the car in search of that figure. We reached the spot and were moving very slowly through the lonely dark roads, hoping it would appear again in the roads. Waited for sometime, but unfortunately he didn't turn up. We dropped our cook at his home and returned. We sensed some foul smell in the area and probably it could be from the carcass of that prey which got attacked.

And we retired for the day after having some Diwali fun.
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Last edited by Cruiser_D : 15th November 2015 at 21:05.
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Old 15th November 2015, 14:19   #3
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Day 3:

We woke up around 6.30 and went for a morning walk in the plantation area. One thing we noticed is, there is no coverage for private mobile players except Vodafone that too in very few areas. Everyone depends on BSNL which is doing a pretty good job out there. The climate was pretty chilling, but not that unbearable and all as we expected. Clicked few photographs in such a pleasant weather.

Cousin's elder son enjoying his routine cycling. This has been always his first choice whenever he is at home for school vacations.
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A view of the outhouse shed where all the manures and fertilizers required for the plantations are kept.
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Labors marching into the field on spraying mission.
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Its just tea leaves every where.
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A friendly squirrel posing to get photographed. You can also see the details of the tree in the name board. These trees serve as proper shades for the tea leaves. We have also seen oak trees in other areas serving the same purpose.
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Private road which leads to our estate bungalow.
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A closer look at tea leaves.
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By 11:00 we got ready for heading towards Sholayar dam, which was another 30 KM scenic drive. We had already given rest to our Brio and were using Fiesta classic for all our local sight seeing trips.

Pulled Brio out of the shed and informed gardener to give her a bath.
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Cousin pulling Fiesta out.
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Headed to Rottikadai - Sholayar route. Rottikadai aka bread shop played vital role in serving the labor community who resides in the small housing units inside plantations. Again spotted few Indian gaurs on the way.
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Nature at its best
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Coffee estate from Tata Coffee Limited. Anamalai hills is full of tea plantations and only very few coffee plantations were spotted.
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Labors involved in harvesting and loading mission.
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A sliding view of the plantations.
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Glimpses of Sholayar.
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A cricket pitch on the banks of Sholayar!
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And finally reached the destination.
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Small rafts used by local fishermen.
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Initially we had plans to go up to Athirapally water falls which is 55 KM far from Sholayar. The road goes completely through the forest and would take easily around 2 hours (one way) for a relax drive. But we had to reach back at Valparai in the evening for a Diwali celebration being held at Anamalai planters association club. Hence the plan was dropped.

The road which leads to Athirapally via Malakkapara forest.
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We went back to estate for lunch, had some rest before heading to Anamalai club for Diwali celebration in the evening.

Anamalai Planters association was started way back in 1903 at Valparai Bungalow. Most of the estate plantations in the Anamalai hill ranges are the prominent members. Few of them which I could identified are Paralai estates, Iyerpadi estates, Waterfall estates, Stanmore estates etc. The present Anamalai club where this function was held was opened in 1927. The club is really doing well in arranging the social engagements for the people associated with the plantations. Otherwise it would be a lonely life for the people and their families who has nothing else in company other than those wild life. They also have developed good SOS systems for alerting the people on the movements of the wild animals.

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We also got engaged in few activities along with club members.
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People getting ready for Diwali blast!
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We finished the dinner at 12:00 and parted off.

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Old 15th November 2015, 20:18   #4
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Day 4:

We really enjoyed the last few days and it was rejuvenating for us in the end. An essential break from the fixed schedules and we thought we really sublimed into the nature. Now it is time for us to return for those routine hectic days ahead.

We finished the breakfast and got ready by 9:00. We were not sure how to thank our cousin and family for giving us few relaxed and peaceful days. And we exchanged goodbyes and started the descent. As I mentioned earlier, we couldn't explore the Ghat sections during our onward journey. So we decided to take the Valparai-Aliyar section with slow pace.

Roads all around Valparai is in pretty good condition.
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Brio getting ready to tackle a steep curve ahead.
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A glimpse of Grass Hills- This place is currently a protected area and it is difficult to get the access for the outsiders. Four wheel drive is a must for exploring this section
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No this is not Kashmir!
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Small falls all round
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We got the company!
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Attakatti checkpost - Anamalai Tiger reserve
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Hair pin bends
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Nature protruding into the roads
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Glimpses of Aliyar dam
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We pullover in between for relaxing a bit in the pleasant weather.
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Wife taking a selfie!
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Natural tunnels on the way
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After exploring Ghat section, we reached Pollachi at 11:45. Then proceeded to Perambalur direction. We had our lunch somewhere near to Aruvakurichi and then proceeded to Perambalur for entering GST. We were expecting heavy Diwali return traffic, but were completely surprised after entering GST. We passed each tolls very quickly as hardly there were any queues. Brio maintained a steady state at 100 KMPH and occasionally reached 120 KMPH. Finally we reached Tamabaram signal at 8 PM.

We were informed about the cyclone developments happening for last couple of days. But we were totally taken by surprise after seeing the flooded roads and pathways inside the city. And finally we were home at 9:00 PM.

Trip and ODO meter readings at the end.
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Fuel economy - 17.6 KM/L

List of Toll Plazas and fares en route (single way fare)
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Old 16th November 2015, 11:39   #5
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 16th November 2015, 12:28   #6
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Nice and beautiful write-up with lots of green pictures! Itís always very pleasant to travel to this part of the world! Very interesting to see Coffee Estate in middle of Tea plantations. Reminds me of Glenlorna Tea Estate in middle of coffee estates in Coorg!
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Old 16th November 2015, 14:26   #7
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Good write-up, appreciate you capturing the minute details and can be handy for anyone traveling on this route. Looks like Gaurs spotting is common on that part. Hard luck on spotting the cat, news of sporadic attack on humans in the Valparai area was there in news, hope there is no man eater in making.
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Old 16th November 2015, 14:56   #8
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Originally Posted by LoneRidder View Post
Nice and beautiful write-up with lots of green pictures! Itís always very pleasant to travel to this part of the world! Very interesting to see Coffee Estate in middle of Tea plantations. Reminds me of Glenlorna Tea Estate in middle of coffee estates in Coorg!
Thanks LoneRidder. We were told that in the beginning, most of the estates started with coffee, but latter changed to tea plantations. I have recently glanced through a book "Anamalai Hills" published by one of the early expediters of Anamalai Hill ranges which talks about these facts.
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Old 16th November 2015, 15:14   #9
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The winding roads look really inviting with the greenery all around.

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Originally Posted by Cruiser_D View Post
So we had to drop our cook at his home after our dinner as it was not considered safe to go back alone in the same route in a bicycle. We finished the dinner, picked up my DSLR and got into the car in search of that figure. We reached the spot and were moving very slowly through the lonely dark roads, hoping it would appear again in the roads. Waited for sometime, but unfortunately he didn't turn up. We dropped our cook at his home and returned. We sensed some foul smell in the area and probably it could be from the carcass of that prey which got attacked.
Good call on dropping your cook back at night, thus avoiding any untoward incident. It would have been amazing had you'll spotted the cat and captured it on lens.

Quote:
Then we went to visit Sinnai Dorai Bungalow. This property is really awesome. They don't have a swimming pool or even a wifi connectivity. So yes, this truly takes you to the real wild life habitats.
The Sinnai Dorai Bungalow looks like a really cool place because of all the antique furniture and equipment. Seems like a nice place to visit just to relax, and leave the mobile phone, internet and the whole urban world cut-off for a short duration.
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Old 16th November 2015, 19:44   #10
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Originally Posted by gadadhar View Post
Good write-up, appreciate you capturing the minute details and can be handy for anyone traveling on this route. Looks like Gaurs spotting is common on that part. Hard luck on spotting the cat, news of sporadic attack on humans in the Valparai area was there in news, hope there is no man eater in making.
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The winding roads look really inviting with the greenery all around.

Good call on dropping your cook back at night, thus avoiding any untoward incident. It would have been amazing had you'll spotted the cat and captured it on lens.
Thanks for the comments. Yes it was a costly miss indeed. However the worst part is, our cousin had spotted one cat very close to estate bungalow on the day we left Valparai. They were on the way back to estate after attending a function late in the night. And he thinks that would be the one spotted by their cook on the previous day as well. Living in these part of the regions is threatening. Better understanding of the wild life is much essential in order to survive.
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Old 17th November 2015, 15:23   #11
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Great Travelogue with some amazing pictures. Having worked in the Tea Gardens in the plains of Assam, I always wonder how it will be to work in the hilly plantations. I am yet to get a feel though

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We dropped our cook at his home and returned. We sensed some foul smell in the area and probably it could be from the carcass of that prey which got attacked.
The foul smell actually indicated that the Leopard was in the vicinity. The odour was not from the carcass of it's prey but from the leopard itself.
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Old 17th November 2015, 16:49   #12
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Great Travelogue with some amazing pictures. Having worked in the Tea Gardens in the plains of Assam, I always wonder how it will be to work in the hilly plantations. I am yet to get a feel though



The foul smell actually indicated that the Leopard was in the vicinity. The odour was not from the carcass of it's prey but from the leopard itself.
Then I am pretty much sure that you would have had enough wild life interactions by this time. If you are right, then I clearly missed an opportunity to see one wild cat roaming free.

May you have the opportunity soon enough to work in the hilly plantations as well
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Old 17th November 2015, 18:32   #13
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Cruiser_D. Nice travelogue, excellent pictures. Thanks for sharing with specifics
Considering my plan to visit Valparai in Jan, your details are very helpful

BTW, are not those who live there & those working in tea estates afraid of wild lives? Is it a safe place during the day & are there any areas which are not advised even to drive after sunset?

Considering your cousin lives there for 5 years, what precaution do they take against wild life & what defense do they have in case they sight a wildcat (like that cook) ?
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Old 17th November 2015, 20:17   #14
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Default Re: A fascinating drive to the land of tea estates - Chennai to Valparai

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raaj* View Post
Cruiser_D. Nice travelogue, excellent pictures. Thanks for sharing with specifics
Considering my plan to visit Valparai in Jan, your details are very helpful

BTW, are not those who live there & those working in tea estates afraid of wild lives? Is it a safe place during the day & are there any areas which are not advised even to drive after sunset?

Considering your cousin lives there for 5 years, what precaution do they take against wild life & what defense do they have in case they sight a wildcat (like that cook) ?
Thanks Raaj for the comments. All the best for your travel

There were few unfortunate incidents where leopards attacked people while walking through the lonely stretches. It is not at all advised to walk through isolated areas along with children. So yes, living in these regions is threatening. Proper vigil and care along with wild life knowledge is a must.

Exploring in a four wheeler would be safer. But there are few places like Malakkapara (if you have plans to visit Athirapally falls) where it is highly recommended to avoid driving during the night as these areas usually see a lot of elephant movements.

They also have alert systems in place which sends alarms (through SMS) regarding wild life movements. This usually works great for spotting elephant movements. But spotting those rare cats may not be easy as they have not received any kind of alert regarding that leopard movement.

But as long as we avoid those isolated areas and that too in the dark, visiting places like Sholayar, Iyerpadi, Balaji temple etc are considered safe. If you want to go for an adventure outing, then it is recommended to take help of authorized persons or known local people who would have better understanding on what to be done if any such situation arise!
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Old 17th November 2015, 20:46   #15
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Default Re: A fascinating drive to the land of tea estates - Chennai to Valparai

That was a nice Travelogue and very good pictures.

In one of your post, you mentioned about Sinnadorai resort. Did you stay there during this trip or you just paid it a visit?

I liked those pictures of Wildlife grazing close to the resort where you stayed!
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